CCNet 68/2001 -  18 May 2001

"This was a game that will be unsurpassed in modern times. You
wouldn't believe it was possible to have so many twists to one game.
As a former defender I suppose I'm not meant to enjoy this sort of
contest - nine goals in one match. But I loved it. It was the best game
you are ever likely to see. It was just unfortunate there had to be a loser,
but I am glad it wasn't Liverpool. All credit to Alaves who just
wouldn't give up but Liverpool deserved their victory."
--Alan Hansen, on Liverpool's 5:4 UEFA Cup victory over
Alaves, BBC Sport 17 May 2001

"Doug Shull's suggestion of potential discovery on the Moon and/or
Mars of dinosaur remains ejected from Earth (38th Space Congress,
cited in CCNet 14-05-01) adds a much needed sense of humor to the
otherwise daunting subject of mass extinction. Accepting that ejection of
solid material from the periphery of large impact craters is possible,
remnants of surface (living) organic matter or of unconsolidated bone
beds would tend to be burnt and/or pulverized, thereby retained within
the Earth's atmosphere. Alternatively, perhaps it is time to begin a
search for ejected relics of Lunar cheese and Martian green men on the
Earth surface?"
--Andrew Glikson, Australian National University

"My own favourite theory is that not only were the pyramids not
simply royal tombs and gateways to the stars, but they also actually served
the kings before their death as a kind of air raid shelter, to protect them
from the explosions of these cosmic missiles. The channel within the
Great Pyramid, pointing in the direction of Orion's belt, could have been
used to observe the progress of an offending meteor stream, focusing on the
point in the sky from which the missiles would have appeared to
--Chandra Wickramasinghe, Cardiff University, 17 May 2001

    Andrew Yee <>

    SpaceDaily, 15 May 2001

BACTERIA, 11 May 2001

    ESA Media Relations <>

    Andrew Yee <>

    Andrew Yee <>

    Duncan Steel <>

    Oliver K. Manuel <>

    The Guardian, 14 May 2001

     Chandra Wickramasinghe, Cardiff University

     Andrew Glikson <>

     Andrew Glikson <>

     Michael Paine <>

     Eric Farmer <>

     Ananova, 16 May 2001


From Andrew Yee <>

ESA Science News

15 May 2001

Ices, rock, organic material -- what is Titan really made of?

Scientists expect to have a much clearer vision of the surface of Titan, the
largest moon of Saturn, when the Huygens probe touches down on its surface
in 2004. In the meantime, both ground-based telescopes and space
observatories are contributing to the growing body of information on the
nature of Titan's surface.

Titan, a planet-sized moon, is of particular interest because it is
considered to be representative of a pre-biotic state similar to that of
early Earth.

Methane, after nitrogen, is the most abundant compound in Titan's
atmosphere. Both of these compounds are being continuously broken apart by
ultraviolet solar photons, energetic electrons from Saturn's magnetosphere,
and cosmic rays.

The fragments of the parent molecules recombine and form new more complex
compounds. Photochemical models predict that ethane should be the main
organic product of these atmospheric reactions.

Ethane and other more complex organics may rain down from the atmosphere
onto Titan's surface. If this is true, then we would expect to find huge
seas of ethane on Titan's surface. Up until recently, it was believed that
the surface of Titan was mainly composed of lakes or oceans of liquid
hydrocarbons. The remaining dry parts of the surface should also be covered
with complex organic deposits.

Recent results obtained by ground-based telescopes have confirmed earlier
observations made by the Hubble Space Telescope. But tantalising new results
at infrared wavelengths have stirred up the debate about what the surface of
Titan is really like.

In particular, excellent observing conditions during a recent observation
campaign with the new adaptive optics system, PUEO, at the
Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) produced images of excellent quality.
The images were taken in the middle of the methane windows at 1.3 µm and 1.6
µm. Methane absorbs light photons. But, in certain wavelength ranges, only a
small fraction of the photons coming from the surface is absorbed. This
allows us to 'see' Titan's surface through these so-called methane windows.
These results were discussed at the General Assembly of the European
Geophysical Society (EGS) in Nice in March 2001.

"We have been obtaining data with adaptive optics since 1994," says Athena
Coustenis, an astronomer at the Paris-Meudon observatory and one of the
scientists involved in the ADONIS (ESO) and HST observation campaign, "when
both ADONIS at ESO in Chile and HST produced an acceptable image of Titan.
It was the first to show Titan's surface."

These observations showed the existence of a bright area, which was highly
contrasted in the ADONIS images, but only recently with PUEO has it been
possible to analyze the details of this spot at shorter wavelengths.

"Having a good instrument is not enough, it is also important to have good
weather, even in Mauna Kea," continued Coustenis. "Recently, we were lucky
and we obtained diffraction limited images. In addition, another bright
feature at Titan's Western limb was noticed for the first time. This
feature might be diagnostic of diurnal effects but requires further
investigation before its origin can be firmly identified."

A map of Titan's geometrical albedo was also obtained. "From our albedo
maps, it appears that the darker areas are about 3 times darker than the
bright spot and they are compatible with a combination of organic deposits
and ice extents, possibly related to topography," concluded Coustenis.

Another important feature of the recent CFHT observations was the
acquisition of data at 0.9 µm (another methane window) with the spectrograph
OASIS, which provides information for the first time at more than 70
different locations on Titan's disk.

Is there lightning in Titan's atmosphere?

Despite the lack of evidence for lightning on Titan, it is still considered
by many scientists to be a strong possibility. Therefore, ESA's Huygens
probe has been designed (and tested) to withstand lightning strikes as it
descends through the Titan atmosphere.

Developing models and improving prediction capabilities for lightning
phenomena on Titan are important in light of the impact of lightning strikes
on the Huygens probe. Some of the work in progress in this area of research
was also discussed at the Nice meeting.

There are basically two possible charging mechanisms on Titan which could
lead to lightning strikes: charging by free electrons and ions or charging
by collision.

"Lightning on Titan may be rare because of low solar input, low temperature,
low gravity, etc. but nevertheless it may be possible," says Tetsuya Tokano,
a scientist at the Institut für Geophysik und Meteorologie, Universität zu

"Methane clouds are necessary for charging, and there is evidence for
occasional clouds in the troposphere. Once it is formed a cloud rapidly
attracts a large number of free electrons which are abundant in Titan's
troposphere. As a consequence, the negative space charge in the cloud may
cause a cloud-to-ground lightning strike in Titan's lower troposphere. The
collisional charging mechanism, on the other hand, appears to be less
efficient since the charge transfer itself may be limited at Titan's cold
temperatures and no substantial charge redistribution takes place in the
cloud due to the weak updraft and gravitation," Tokano concludes.

Are aerosols on Titan sticky?

As part of the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and Titan the Huygens probe
is set to sample aerosols as it descends through Titan's atmosphere. During
the descent these aerosol particles may cover the surfaces of the detectors,
which would prevent Huygens from sampling the surroundings. Whether this
happens or not depends primarily on the stickiness of the aerosols, which in
turn is related to the age of the aerosol particles.

Dr Vladimir Dimitrov of the University of Tel Aviv presented a very
interesting study in which he described how aging of hydrocarbon aerosols in
Titan's atmosphere occurs and what this implies for the Huygens Probe.

"Aging and charging of aerosols are very favorable phenomena with respect to
the functioning of the Huygens probe," said Dimitrov, "because they
essentially weaken the possibility of damaging the detectors on-board the

In the course of time, the aerosol material changes its properties, either
spontaneously or as a result of several external factors. As a consequence,
it becomes much more inert, dense and hard, while becoming less sticky.
Moreover, external irradiation produces charging of the aerosol particles,
so that they have the ability to capture external electrons.

"Altogether," concluded Dimitrov, "the combined effect of aging and charging
at the altitude range where the Huygens probe will operate decreases the
interference with the measurements by a factor of 50 to 100, and continuous
trouble free operation of Huygens is ensured."

We must still wait for the best close-up view

With still three years to go before Cassini-Huygens reaches Titan, the
puzzle over the nature of Titan's surface remains. New ground-based
observations, and laboratory work, continue to fuel the debate in the
scientific community about the nature and complexity of its surface and of
its atmosphere.

Future observations with increased spectral resolution and adaptive optics
systems are important in order to prepare well for the Cassini-Huygens
observations. "But we have to be patient," says Jean-Pierre Lebreton, ESA's
Huygens project scientist. "We have to wait for Cassini-Huygens to be able
to reveal the secrets of Titan hidden behind the thick orange haze curtain
that shrouds the atmosphere."


* Why go to Titan?
* Some facts about Titan
* Titan images obtained with ADONIS at ESO
* Images of Titan from PUEO at the CFHT
* New Titan images obtained with the Keck telescope


[Image 1: ]
Titan's surface as seen with PUEO on the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope.
These images were obtained by Athena Coustenis and colleagues. Copyright ©
Athena Coustenis et al.

[Image 2: ]
HST images of Titan's surface. Scientists for the first time have made
images of the surface of Saturn's giant, haze-shrouded moon, Titan. They
mapped light and dark features over the surface of the satellite during
nearly a complete 16-day rotation. One prominent bright area they discovered
is a surface feature 2,500 miles across, about the size of the continent of
Australia. Copyright: © UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory


From SpaceDaily, 15 May 2001

by Marc D. Rayman

Pasadena - May 15, 2001

As Deep Space 1 continues is cosmic voyage, it is preparing for a very brief
and extremely daring assignment later this year. If all goes well for the
next 4 months, on September 22 DS1 will greet comet Borrelly as the icy body
and the spacecraft flash past each other at 16.5 kilometers/second (more
than 10 miles/second, or 36,900 miles/hour).
While this is a great bonus opportunity to try to gather some unique and
wondrous information about comets, it is also a very very challenging and
risky undertaking.

But with a marvelously successful primary mission to its credit as well as a
remarkably exciting and rewarding extension, the bold challenge of the comet
encounter is a worthwhile adventure. Comets are believed to be remnants from
the formation of the solar system, and studying them may shed light on the
origin and evolution of our solar system and perhaps even on the evolution
of Earth.

With its motto of "If it isn't impossible, it isn't worth doing" always in
mind, the very small Deep Space 1 team has been preparing for the event.

The measurements DS1 will attempt at the comet will be described in detail
in future logs. In brief, however, the probe will attempt to fly through the
coma, the cloud of gas and dust surrounding the nucleus, and measure its

Then as it closes in to near the center of the coma, it will be faced with
its greatest challenge -- to obtain pictures and infrared spectra of the
diminutive nucleus, invisible from Earth because of its size and the
obscuration by the coma.

The craft will have to locate the nucleus on its own and point the camera at
it as it streaks by. That would be difficult enough, given that we can't
tell DS1 exactly where the nucleus is nor what it will look like. But the
little robot's assignment will be still more challenging because in the
absence of its star tracker, which failed in November 1999, it normally has
to stay locked to a reference star to remain stable.

It can't point its camera at a star while it is trying to find and
photograph the nucleus, so it will have to rely on its gyros, which provide
approximate measurements of the spacecraft's turns. These gyros however were
not meant for such a job, and they are not accurate enough to provide a
stable platform throughout the encounter period.

To get an inkling of just one facet of the problem, suppose someone were
holding a pair of high-power binoculars for you while you tried to look
through them. Her hands would not be perfectly steady, and you would have a
hard time seeing what you wanted. In fact, unless you told her how to
position the binoculars, she might even move them around enough that the
object of interest would completely leave your field of view.

DS1 is faced with a similar situation, with the binoculars being like the
camera, and the gyros being the assistant's hands. But now if you could tell
your friend how to move the binoculars ("a little to the right, now lower
them -- no, that's too much") you might be able to guide her well enough for
you to get a good view.

Some of the new software that was installed in DS1 in March is designed to
analyze the pictures, look for what might be the nucleus, and decide how to
move the spacecraft to keep it in the camera's sights.

During the spacecraft's encounter with the comet, it will rely on the
software and an extremely complex set of carefully timed commands to execute
the myriad steps necessary to collect its measurements. But how do we test
all of this?

Of course, we have ground-based simulators of the spacecraft, but they are
of only limited fidelity. So to make sure we are on the right track in
developing the commands that will give the probe its best chance to point
its camera at the comet as it closes in on it, the DS1 control team
conducted some clever experiments with the spacecraft on May 1 and May 8.

Such tests involve some risk and a great deal of work to prepare and
execute. The very long hours of hard (but, frankly, incredibly cool!) work
by the team keep paying off however. In addition, because the Deep Space 1
project's resources are quite limited, the team's careful decisions in how
it deals with risky undertakings have been an important ingredient in the
success of such difficult operations.

After much planning, on May 1 DS1 took advantage of a coincidental alignment
of itself with two planets to conduct a valuable test of the new software.
On that date, when DS1 pointed its main antenna to distant Earth, its camera
ended up pointing to still-more-distant Jupiter.

With controllers thus able to monitor data (of course delayed by the long
wait for signals to travel from the probe to the second floor of JPL's Space
Flight Operations Facility on Earth), DS1 used this new software to keep
Jupiter in the view of its camera for the duration of the test -- over 2
hours. This provided the spacecraft with a rare opportunity to try to track
a target other than a star, which would have appeared only as a pinpoint.

Jupiter is around 30,000 times larger than the nucleus of the comet (whose
actual size is very poorly known) DS1 will meet in September. So although it
was over 820 million kilometers (510 million miles) from the craft, the
planet, the largest in our solar system, looked to DS1 about the same size
that the comet will appear when DS1 is on its final approach, only about
half an hour before the moment of closest encounter.

This also illustrates part of the difficulty of the encounter -- this comet
nucleus is going to be very tiny and thus difficult to locate! The software
successfully detected Jupiter (appearing as just a little fuzzy ball) in the
picture frame and correctly computed compensations for the gyros to hold
Jupiter in about the right spot.

Jupiter was so far away that its position did not vary during the test, but
when the spacecraft gets to the vicinity of comet Borrelly, it will have to
keep turning to keep its camera pointed at the moving target. In addition,
it will execute many other commands to control its scientific instruments,
to move and record data in its computer system, to set various operating
modes of the spacecraft systems, etc.

To rehearse all of that, on May 8 DS1 executed a practice encounter with
comet Spoof.

This comet exists only in the virtual universe of software (as well as, of
course, the hearts and minds of the mission operations team), but DS1 did
not know the difference (and don't tell the impressionable probe!).

It dutifully followed the sequence of commands, all the while recording its
own performance for later analysis by engineers. Each time it took a
picture, the computer file containing the image was intercepted by a special
routine on board that "painted" a comet nucleus on it.

The software determined how big Spoof should be at that point in the
encounter, and how much of the portion visible to the spacecraft would be
illuminated by the Sun. The image file was subsequently sent back on its
electronic way, and nothing else on board knew that the nucleus in the
picture was synthetic.

The spacecraft then processed each of these pictures and exercised the
systems that will be used to try to follow the nucleus during the encounter.
By using the actual camera on the actual spacecraft, the test included such
phenomena as unwanted stray light, camera flaws, and cosmic rays (which can
show up in some pictures and confuse the software); this made the rehearsal
much more realistic.

The test proved very successful, giving the DS1 team important information
on the detailed performance of the spacecraft using the software and the
commands that have been formulated thus far.

This will be important in helping guide our work in designing the comet
encounter, as we now have a new comparison of the operation of the genuine
spacecraft with that of the Earth-based simulator. An encore performance
rehearsal will take place near the end of June.

The Sun, now at the peak of its 11-year cycle of activity, is spewing forth
much more radiation than usual. Any readers in the vicinity of Earth are
protected from this by our planet's vast magnetic field, and those near the
surface have the extra protection of the thick (and mostly breathable)

Those of you on several of our solar system's planets may still be treated
to some lovely auroras these days triggered by the solar activity, and
observers who are very careful can see Sun spots, some large enough to be
visible without magnification.

But lonely DS1 does not have a planet's magnetic field or atmosphere to
shield it from the buffeting of the raging storms on the Sun. Nevertheless,
much to the relief of the busy and fatigued operations team, it is managing
to fly smoothly and happily; solar radiation does not appear to be causing

As DS1 continues its flight, the thrusting with the ion propulsion system
has passed several milestones. On March 21, DS1 had accumulated 10,000 hours
of thrusting. This number is not inherently special, but it certainly does
illustrate the system's fantastic longevity.

On May 1 DS1 had completed enough firing of its ion engine to coast to the
comet -- we're on target! But as several mission logs have described, the
spacecraft is so low on its supply of the conventional rocket fuel known as
hydrazine that it must keep the ion engine thrusting at a low throttle level
to control its orientation in space. So it will remain at "impulse power"
for most of the time until shortly before the spacecraft reaches Borrelly.

DS1 is now about 157 million kilometers, or 97 million miles, from comet

Deep Space 1 is 1.9 times as far from Earth as the Sun is and more than 750
times as far as the moon. At this distance of 290 million kilometers, or 180
million miles, radio signals, traveling at the universal limit of the speed
of light, take over 32 minutes to make the round trip.

Copyright 2001, SpaceDaily


From, 11 May 2001

By Staff

An Italian team reportedly has found and revived bacteria harbored in an
ancient meteorite, a finding that points to the existence of
extraterrestrial life but has yet to pass scientific muster.

Bruno D'Argenio of the Italian National Research Council (CNR) in Naples and
Giuseppe Geraci of the University of Naples discovered the bacteria, called
"cryms" or cristallomicrobi, within the crystalline structure of space rocks
found in several parts of the world, the Italian newspaper La Stampa

The bacteria could be 2 billion years old and resisted the extreme pressures
and temperatures of entering Earth's atmosphere while inside the meteorite,
the researchers say. They publicized their findings at a press conference to
the Italian Space Agency in Rome, Reuters reported earlier this week.

The bacteria bear DNA chemistry identical to that within Earth-based life,
reproduce normally and are sensitive to antibiotics, the researchers say. In
addition, the reports indicate the cryms were found in several other Earth
rocks -- which could contradict the claim of extraterrestrial origins.

If true, the finding would support not only the existence of life beyond
Earth but a theory that life came here from space, rather than emerging from
a primordial soup on this planet.

NASA scientist Everett K. Gibson, who has suffered his share of slings and
arrows for ongoing work on Martian meteorites that can be interpreted as
bearing signs of fossilized life, was quite skeptical of the Italian
reports, noting they provided no detail on where the meteorites were found.

Gibson, a senior scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center, was the co-leader
of a group that announced evidence in 1996 that could be interpreted as
ancient life in a Martian meteorite.

"In this case," Gibson said of the Italian findings, "there is not enough
evidence that we see from the report to assume anything other than the
characterization that it's similar to 50 terrestrial rocks," Gibson said.
"That strongly suggests that what they are seeing is something from a

Those who study early life on Earth use eight criteria for judging whether a
sample is likely to bear signs of life, he said. The toughest hurdle
requires researchers to demonstrate that the chemistry in their rock comes
indeed from the rock, not from chemistry the rock has picked up in its

The Italian sample quite likely was contaminated by Earth bacteria or
chemical factors upon arrival, Gibson said, with bacteria borne via
atmospheric or surface gases.

"It's extremely likely that [incoming meteorite] material will pick up
contaminants from the Earth," he said. "These are terrestrial bacteria. So
the burden of proof lies with the investigator to prove that what he has is
truly indigenous from the sample he is studying."

In an open letter to La Stampa, Ennio Marsella, also of the CNR, likened his
colleagues' findings to the 1996 discovery. He called the creatures
"dormant" bacteria with the ability to endure indefinitely within the
crystalline structure of rocks.

Cryms measure a few ten-thousandths of a millimeter or smaller, Marsella
said. Extracted from rocks on Earth, they can, "with rather simple
techniques, once placed in the appropriate conditions," regain mobility and
begin to reproduce, he said.

Scientists have long debated the origin of life on Earth, with life dated
back 3.8 billion years, just half a billion years after the birth of the
planet. Some researchers believe comets transported life to Earth, while
others say some form of electromagnetic radiation catalyzed a combination of
chemicals on Earth to jump-start life.

Copyright 2001,


From ESA Media Relations <>

Paris, 23 May 2001
Press Release
N° 27-2001

First European Workshop on Exo/Astrobiology  - ESA/ESRIN, 21 - 23 May 2001

From 21 to 23 May, the first European Workshop on Exo/Astrobiology will be
taking place at ESA/ESRIN, the European Space Agency establishment in Italy
(Frascati, near Rome).

The workshop is being organised jointly by the European Exobiology Network
and the European Space Agency.

Its purpose is to identify the European potential in exo/astrobiology and
develop new avenues for cooperation and projects in this field, and more
particularly to strengthen the European network in exo/astrobiology,
encourage young scientists to participate in this field of research, and
develop a perspective for longer-term research, especially in relation to
human missions to Mars.

The workshop will be in six distinct sessions addressing the following

· national and international activities in exo/astrobiology,
· life in the extremes, terrestrial analogues for extraterrestrial habitats
· ingredients and chemistry of primitive life,
· extraterrestrial/extrasolar habitability, and
· nature and search for life in the solar system and beyond, and
· search for life in the Solar system (missions).
In addition to the plenary sessions, group discussions will be organised in
splinter meetings and poster sessions.

Media representatives are invited to attend  the morning session of the
opening day (Monday 21 May, 09h00 - 13h15).   Lunch will be provided for the
media, and ESA and European scientists will be available for interviews.

Media representatives wishing to attend are kindly requested to complete the
attached form and return it by fax to the ESA/ESRIN Communication Office
(Simonetta Cheli, Fax No: + 39 06 94180352).

More details are available at the following Web address:

For further information, please contact :

Simonetta Cheli
Head of the Public and Institutional Relations Office
Tel.: + 39 06 94180350
Fax: + 39 06 94180352


From Andrew Yee <>

Washington University in St. Louis

Tony Fitzpatrick, Washington University in St. Louis, (314) 935-5272

Clayton Berry, St. Louis University, (314) 977-7117

May 14, 2001

St. Louis University, Washington University in St. Louis researchers uncover
evidence that sheds light on origins of the planet

A Saint Louis University researcher has made a discovery near the Great Wall
in China that could change the science of plate tectonics and provide some
clues into how life might have developed on Earth.

The research, a collaborative effort involving Peking University and
Washington University in St. Louis researchers, was published as a report in
the May 11, 2001 issue of Science magazine.

It has been widely held that plate tectonics, or the motion of plates and
continents, dates back 1.9 billion years. Timothy Kusky, Ph.D., professor of
geology at St. Louis University, is part of a group of geologists who
believe the plates began moving much sooner.

Kusky now believes he has the data to prove the theory. Last summer, he
discovered the oldest complete section of oceanic sea floor on the planet,
which is more than 500 million years older than previously documented. When
he returned, he sought the assistance of Robert Tucker, Ph.D., associate
professor of earth and planetary science at Washington University in St.
Louis, to date the rare samples.

According to Tucker, the rocks are 2.5 billion years old and date back to
Earth's earliest geologic time period, known as the Archean. The rocks are
remarkably similar to much younger volcanic rocks that erupted on the sea
floor in the process of sea floor spreading.  For decades, geologists have
debated whether plate tectonics operated in the Archean period. Those who
have argued against that theory have cited the lack of any Archean
ophiolites as their main line of evidence that plate tectonics did not occur
on the early Earth. Ophiolites are rock structures formed on the sea floor
when continents collide.

"This discovery shows that the plate tectonic forces that create oceanic
crust on the Earth today were in operation more than 2.5 billion years ago,"
Kusky said.

Kusky said the findings could have a more far-reaching effect on theories
related to the development of life on the planet. Scientists believe life on
Earth during the Archean period consisted mainly of single-celled organisms
in the oceans. Just when they evolved into more complex organisms has been
contested for years.

"Because hot volcanic vents on the sea floor may have provided the nutrients
and temperatures needed for life to flourish and develop, it's possible that
life developed and diversified around these vents as plate tectonics began,"
Kusky said.

Kusky and Dr. Jiang-Hai Li of Peking University in Beijing made the
discovery in a mountain belt in the Eastern Hebei Province, which is located
only a few miles from the Great Wall.


From Andrew Yee <>

From Agence France-Presse, 15 May 2001
[ ]

Tuesday, May 15, 2001, 12:39 PM EDT

Sci-fi writer Douglas Adams immortalised in space

PARIS (AFP) -- In a coincidence that could have been taken straight from one
of his quirky novels, on the day writer Douglas Adams died, an international
space agency named an asteroid Arthurdent, from a character from his
best-known work, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

The Minor Planet Center, a branch of the International Astronomical Union
(IAU), made the announcement on Friday in an e-mail circular, the same day
the British author died, a spokesman for the Center, in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, told AFP by phone Tuesday.

Adams, who died aged just 49, had a worldwide following for his wry,
inventive style, which poked gentle fun at human self-importance as well as
science fiction itself.

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" was spawned as a BBC radio play in
1978 and blossomed into a TV show, a novel and sequels, as well as plans to
turn the tale into a Hollywood movie.

Arthur Dent, one of its central characters, is a mild-mannered Englishman
who is rescued from Earth seconds before it is destroyed to make way for a
hyperspace bypass.

The asteroid's name was proposed by Felix Hormuth, an astronomer at
Germany's Starkenburg Observatory, which spotted the space rock on February
7, 1998, the specialist website said.

The Minor Planet Center announcement reads: "The Earthling Arthur Dent is
confronted with the adversities of life, the universe and everything in a
highly amusing and entertaining way in Douglas Adams' famous five-volume
trilogy The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

One of the Center's roles is to assign names to new asteroids, comets and
other orbiting rocks.

Adams died in Santa Barbara, California, following a heart attack.

Copyright © 2001 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

See also:

From, 14 May 2001

From New Scientist, 14 May 2001


From Duncan Steel <>

Dear Benny,

The words of the late lamented Douglas Adams have appeared much earlier in a
citation for a minor planet (asteroid) name; in fact one named in honour of
a CCNet subscriber, as follows:

From the Minor Planet Circulars of 1997 February 22:

(6564) Asher = 1992 BB
     Discovered 1992 Jan. 25 by R. H. McNaught at Siding Spring.
     Named in honor of David John Asher (b. 1966), researcher on the
dynamics of the small bodies in the solar system. Born in Scotland, Asher
took degrees at the universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Edinburgh.
Following this, he took the words of Douglas Adams in 'The Hitchhiker's
Guide to the Galaxy' to heart - "With a degree in maths, and another in
astrophysics, it was either that or back to the dole queue on Monday" - and
moved to Australia, where he spent two years at the Anglo-Australian
Observatory. He is currently working at the National Astronomical
Observatory in Japan. Name proposed by the discoverer following a suggestion
by D. I. Steel, who prepared the citation.

David does indeed still work part of the year in Japan, at the Bisei
Spaceguard Center, but he is also affiliated with the Armagh Observatory in
Northern Ireland.

I might add that when 1991 DA (now catalogued as 5335 Damocles) was
discovered, I thought it a sufficiently bizarre object to suggest the name
"Dadams" (so as to avoid confusion with John Couch Adams etc.), especially
because the preliminary designation gave Douglas Adams' initials.

Kind regards,

Duncan Steel


From Oliver K. Manuel <>

Dear Colleagues:

Please forgive this unsolicited message to inform you that the above
Proceedings have finally been published and are now being distributed. One
participant, Dr. R. Ganapathy <>, has received his copy
and seems pleased with the final product.

These are Proceedings of  the ACS Symposium organized by Glenn Seaborg and
me in 1999, shortly before his death. It provides a good cross-section of
opinions on this important subject at the end of the 20th Century from
internationally recognized leaders in nuclear physics, nuclear chemistry,
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From The Guardian, 14 May 2001,3604,490307,00.html

Pharoahs used monuments as launch pads to the afterlife, says scientist

Tim Radford, science editor
Monday May 14, 2001
The Guardian

The pyramids of Egypt could be explained as symbolic stairways to the stars,
according to a British scientist. And - in a twist that will delight New Age
believers in mysterious energies and alien spacecraft - the inspiration for
the pyramids might indeed have arrived from outer space, in the form of a

Toby Wilkinson, an Egyptologist based at Cambridge University, told a
conference over the weekend that some of his theory was "deliberately
controversial, provocative, but tantalising".

He argued, from evidence of the orientation of the pyramids - always to the
northern pole star - and from the names given to estates to finance funerary
cults, and the shape of the pyramids themselves, that they could be seen as
launch pads for the pharaoh's journey to the afterlife among the stars.

"Circumpolar stars are a very good metaphor for the afterlife because when
viewed, they never seem to set: they simply rotate around the pole star.
They are the undying stars, or in Egyptian terminology, the Indestructibles,
a perfect destination for the soul of the dead king," he told a Bloomsbury
archaeological summer school at University College London.

Pyramid structures extend from the north of Egypt to the Sudan, and they
were built over thousands of years. "Where are all the steps that led up to
pyramid building?" he asked. "We stand marvelling at these monuments and
they seem to have appeared almost from nowhere, but clearly something like
that cannot be put up overnight without the infrastructure in place."

This infrastructure included royal command of the economy, systematic
taxation, a body of experience in public works and increasing mastery of
stone as a building material. There had also to be religious or political
motivation. Dr Wilkinson traced the rise of a professional civil service in
seals, documents and grave inscriptions dating back almost to 3,000BC, and
the continuing evidence of Egyptian belief not only in an afterlife, but in
death itself as a journey.

Kate Spence, a Cambridge colleague, had demonstrated in a paper last year
that from the first, the pyramids were all precisely oriented towards the
northern stars. There were further clues in the names, which were crucially
important in ancient Egyptian culture. One pyramid was explicitly called
"the gleaming". Another was called "the pyramid that is a star". From the
1st dynasty onwards - long before the pyramids were built - kings had
founded estates to finance their tomb cults: one of these was explicitly
called "Horus (that is, the king) rises as a star".

"What clearer exposition could we have of the ideology surrounding a king's
afterlife than that?" Dr Wilkinson asked.

Tombs of the first dynasties were concealed by mounds of earth, seen as
symbols of rebirth or resurrection. The first pyramid - the step pyramid at
Saqqara, built in the 3rd dynasty - had its altar to the north, and the ramp
down into its subterranean chambers started from the north face.

"It can also be seen as a ramp from the burial chamber," he said. "Because
if you stand in the burial chamber underneath, and look up this entrance
ramp, you are looking at the northern sky. And this is perhaps a launch pad
for the king's spirit, to eject him straight to the northern stars where he
hopes to spend his afterlife."

Fourth dynasty pyramids - including the Great Pyramid and others on the Giza
plateau - were very carefully oriented towards the stars. Could they have
been modelled on stars?

"What does a star look like in three dimensions? We could only know that if
we had a star that has fallen to Earth for us to look at. A meteorite,
perhaps, a shooting star that has literally come down to Earth."

He had a candidate: a stone - long since lost - that had been revered at the
temple of Heliopolis in the fourth dynasty. It was known as the Benben
stone, and it was represented in inscriptions as conical or pyramid-shaped.
Significantly, the Egyptian word for the capstone, the uppermost stone on a
pyramid, was "benbenet" or little benben. The high priest at Heliopolis was
called "greatest of observers", a title that had astronomical links.

"Could it have been that the Benben stone itself was a meteorite? A signal
from the celestial realm to the earthly realm, something that is worshipped
as a sign from the heavens? Well, it is a rather tantalising suggestion," Dr
Wilkinson said.

"I'm not a geologist, and wouldn't claim to be, but there is a particular
kind of meteorite, a rare kind of meteorite, which as it enters the
atmosphere, is formed into a shape that startlingly resembles a pyramid.
Could the benben stone have been such a stone? Could it have been a shooting
star that had fallen to earth and been worshipped as a sign from the

Copyright 2001, The Guardian


From The Daily Mail, 15 May 2001, p. 11

By Chandra Wickramasinghe, Cardiff University

FOR thousands of years they have stood in the desert, inspiring and
perplexing generations of explorers. The pyramids, utterly simple and
profoundly beguiling, remain the greatest enigma of human endeavour.

Over the years the intricate mechanics of these astonishing constructions
have been revealed. But like all great enigmas, the more we discover about
them the more mysterious they become. And the greatest mystery of all is why
were they built at all?

Were the pyramids simply burial chambers for megalomaniac pharaohs, eager to
carve out the flashiest of all resting places in the Egyptian desert? Or
were they built with a deeper and possibly cosmic meaning?

There is now mounting evidence to support the latest tantalising theory,
raised again this week, that they were constructed as stairways to the
stars, inspired by meteorites from space.

Toby Wilkinson, an Egyptologist based at Cambridge University, told a
conference at University College London over the weekend that, judging from
the orientation and shapes of the pyramids, their mystical  purpose was to
provide a direct highway to the heavens, a spiritual launch pad for the
pharaoh's journey to the afterlife.

No one has convincingly unlocked this mystery of the pyramids, that has
intrigued historians, archaeologists and explorers - not to mention the
public - for many years. This week the sequel to the blockbuster film The
Mummy will open, yet another testimony of the enduring hold the pyramids
have over us.

As scholars turn their attention to the question that has haunted us since
the historian Herodotus wrote the first 'traveller's guide' to the pyramids
in the fifth century BC, it is now the turn of astronomers to try and
explain their significance.

The time at which the pyramids were built, from around 2800BC, may offer the
greatest clue to their celestial importance. It was an era when our planet
was under regular attack from the skies in the form of cosmic missiles,
meteorites and pieces of comets that crashed through the skies.

They landed on earth causing many different forms of devastation and were an
Egyptian obsession. Their impact was comparable to an event that took place
in 1908, when an object of about 100 metres entered the atmosphere over

A great fireball passed low over the town of Kirensk, outshining the sun,
and exploded about 8kms above a remote part of Siberia. It was seen as far
as 1,000km away and the explosive power was equivalent to more than 650
Hiroshima bombs.

At the time of the building of the pyramids such events were almost
certainly a regular occurrence, bringing massive floods and destruction in
their wake. The public was deeply fearful of the power of the star-filled

The construction of the three most famous pyramids at Giza began with the
mighty Pharaoh Khufu, who built the Great Pyramid in around 2.500BC. This
stupendous structure covering 13 acres is quite simply the most astonishing
engineering feat in history. It took 4,000 people to move the 6million tons
of precisely cut quarry stone, and Khufu relied on systematic taxation to
raise the funds to build them. He was also dependent on the extraordinary
masonry skills and labour of his people who followed intricate
specifications on the positioning of the pyramids.

The traditional theory that the pyramids were simply royal tombs for the
pharaohs, who were seen as living gods, has always raised more questions
than it has answered.

However revered the pharaohs may have been, why was there such a huge input
of energy, skill and money into the pyramids? And why were they constructed
on such precise alignments with points of the compass? A construction
engineer and amateur Egyptologist, Robert Bauval, first pointed out that
overhead photographs of the three Giza pyramids show an astounding
similarity to the disposition of the three brightest stars in Orion's belt.

This includes the distances between the pyramids and their size in relation
to the brightness of the stars. It even includes the minute detail of a kink
in the lines connecting the pyramids that matches a similar kink in the
lines joining the stars in the sky.

The link to the Orion belt shows up even more strikingly in the alignment of
a passage or channel that passes through the Great Pyramid, connecting the
King's chamber to the outside world.

Astronomers have calculated that at about the time the pyramid was built,
this channel would have pointed precisely in the direction of the brightest
star in Orion's belt, when the star rose to its highest point in the sky.

Another enticing hint that they were built as stairways to the stars was
uncovered by accident in 1879, by an Arab foreman. When he followed a jackal
into the base of a pyramid at Saqqara, he was led into a chamber covered in
a mass of exquisite carved hieroglyphics, decorated with turquoise and gold.
These pyramid texts were initially dismissed by Egyptologists as 'magical
charms and fragments of old myths.' Their message was largely ignored.

But the texts backed up Bauval's findings. Over and over, they stressed the
belief: 'O king, you are this Great Star, Companion of Orion...behold,
Osiris has come as Orion...O king, the sky conceives you with Orion.'

It seems almost certain that these pyramids, where the star faith was
inscribed in obsessive detail, were indeed far more than mere hollow tombs
and memorials. They were both a replica of the astral destination of a dead
Pharaoh and a launching pad to speed his soul starward.

Their link to the rock filled skies is clear. Orion's belt also appeared to
be the source of the meteors and deadly missiles that were a constant threat
to the Egyptian people.

My own favourite theory is that not only were the pyramids not simply royal
tombs and gateways to the stars, but they also actually served the kings
before their death as a kind of air raid shelter, to protect them from the
explosions of these cosmic missiles.

The channel within the Great Pyramid, pointing in the direction of Orion's
belt, could have been used to observe the progress of an offending meteor
stream, focusing on the point in the sky from which the missiles would have
appeared to come.

Other archaeological discoveries point to the remains of cosmic air-raid
shelters for lesser mortals during the Old Kingdom of ancient Egypt, which
collapsed in around 2300BC. Groups of bodies were discovered with arms over
their heads, bodies in contorted positions, strongly suggesting that they
were the hapless victims of an unexpected assault from the skies.

This theory is also supported by a pioneering new science, dendrochronology,
the study of the thickness of tree rings at different times in the past. The
thinning of tree rings has been discovered in oaks across the entire period
2354 to 2345BC which comes close to the final decades of the Old Kingdom.

The most simple explanation is due to the frequent arrival of cometary
missiles, that would have dusted the atmosphere and dimmed the light from
the sun, depriving trees of much needed energy. Here is yet further evidence
that the Egyptians were under a regular torrent of missiles from above.  One
thing is certain. The pyramids were planned and built with meticulous care
and their construction involved an effort that comes close to being
superhuman. The Giza pyramids have survived for 5,000 years. Yet they will
never entirely give up their mystery. Instead, they will continue to keep
teaching each generation new lessons about human endeavour and our
relationship with the universe.

The ancient Egyptians were ever wary of the skies, keeping constant watch
for imminent danger. In the year 2001 we are at long last making some
progress in recognising that such threats are not entirely a thing of the

Again we are turning our heads skywards, and looking out for possible
dangers under the Spaceguard programme. If they can teach us anything, it is

[Chandra Wickramasinghe's new book Cosmic Dragons is published by Souvenir
Press in September]

Copyright 2001, Daily Mail, London





From Andrew Glikson <>

Dear Benny,

I refer to items regarding the T-J boundary mass extinction (CCNet
11-05-01), where Peter Ward is quoted as stating "There is no definitive
evidence yet on what caused the demise of so many species".

The end-Triassic constitutes a major extraterrestrial bombardment period,
the cluster consisting of Manicouagan (Quebec; D=100 km; 212+/-2 Ma),
Puchezh-Katunki (Russia; D=80 km; 220+/-10 Ma), Saint Martin (Manitoba; D=40
km; 220+/-32 Ma), and Redwing (Dakota; D=9 km; 200+/-25 Ma).

The end-Triassic is also the time of onset of the Atlantic oceanic split,
accompanied by intense volcanic activity along the incipient ocean
rift/suture, as well as rifting in several other parts of the Earth (V.
Courtillot, C. Jaupart, I. Manughetti, P. Tapponnier, J. Besse. On causal
links between flood basalts and continental breakup. Earth Planet. Sci.
Lett. 166 (1999) 177-196. W.J. Morgan, Hotspot tracks and the opening of the
Atlantic and Indian oceans. in: C. Emiliani (Ed.), The Sea, vol. 7, Wiley
Interscience. New York, 1981, pp. 443-487). These papers interpret the
volcanism as due to endogenic mantle plumes, however it is possible the
volcanic activity rifting and ocean splitting may have been triggered by the
impacts (Glikson, 1999; Glikson, in press).

A major extinction at the end-Triassic has been established earlier (Newell,
1967; Stanley, 1987; Sepkoski, 1993; Hallam, 1997). This is supported by the
organic carbon and light carbon enrichment (the so-called "graveyard shift")
reported by Ward et al. (2001), a diagnostic signature of extinction also
observed along several other impact boundaries (Frasnian-Famenian [late
Devonian], Permian-Triassic, K-T). Genetic links between the impact cluster
and the mass extinction remain a distinct possibility to be tested by
further precise isotopic age determinations of the above impact craters.

Andrew Glikson

Australian National University
Canberra, ACT 0200


From Andrew Glikson <>

Dear Benny,

Doug Shull's suggestion of potential discovery on the Moon and/or Mars of
dinosaur remains ejected from Earth (38th Space Congress, cited in CCNet
14-05-01) adds a much needed sense of humor to the otherwise daunting
subject of mass extinction. Accepting that ejection of solid material from
the periphery of large impact craters is possible, remnants of surface
(living) organic matter or of unconsolidated bone beds would tend to be
burnt and/or pulverized, thereby retained within the Earth's atmosphere.
Alternatively, perhaps it is time to begin a search for ejected relics of
Lunar cheese and Martian green men on the Earth surface?

Andrew Glikson



From Michael Paine <>

Dear Benny

The latest issue of Nature (17 May 01) has a paper with an analysis of
atmospheric CO2 concentrations over the past 300 million years. Unusually,
the method appears to be able to detect spikes in the record. The author
makes reference to a spike at the KT boundary and attributes it to the
Yucatan impact. He also refers to spikes at other major boundaries but
attributes them to methane outbursts (see extract below). I would think
post-impact effects are just as likely a cause of the spikes as methane.
Indeed, as raised previously on CCNet, one possible consequence of a large
impact is the disturbance of methane hydrates in the oceans.

Michael Paine

Nature 411, 287-290
A 300-million-year record of atmospheric carbon dioxide from fossil plant
The cuticular time series (Fig. 4b) shows numerous transient excursions to
very high CO2
(>2,000 p.p.m.v.). High-resolution studies of the SI minimum in fossil
Ginkgo and cycad leaves across the Triassic-Jurassic boundary (200 Myr ago;
ref. 20) in Greenland and Sweden indicates a transient CO2 spike coincident
with excursion to isotopically lighter carbon (13Corg) of the same leaves,
and mass extinction (claiming Lepidopteris among others)21. Other CO2 and
carbon isotopic transients following mass extinction of the earliest
Triassic (250 Myr ago), and faunal overturn of the early Jurassic period
(190 Myr ago), early Cretaceous period (117 Myr ago) and late Palaeocene
epoch (55 Myr ago), have been related to catastrophic outbursts of
isotopically light methane from permafrost and marine hydrate reservoirs8,
9, 22. Yet another CO2 spike at the
Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary is coincident with an excursion to lighter
carbon isotopic values on land and in the sea, asteroid impact in Yucatan,
and the mass extinctions that claimed dinosaurs and ammonites23. Transient
CO2 maxima in the cuticular time series (Fig. 4a, b) represent
strong perturbations of the carbon cycle. There are significant
discrepancies between cuticular estimates of atmospheric CO2 (Fig. 4a, b)
and estimates based on the carbon isotopic composition of palaeosol
carbonates (Fig. 4c), which indicate CO2 minima (including even negative
concentrations) at 250 Myr ago (earliest Triassic), 190 Myr ago (early
Jurassic), 117 Myr ago (early Cretaceous) and 55 Myr ago (latest
Palaeocene)3. The timing of these events may be a clue to reasons for the
discrepancies, because carbon isotopic studies indicate that these were
times of catastrophic release of isotopically light methane from permafrost
and marine gas-hydrate reservoirs8, 9, 22. Once in the atmosphere, methane
is oxidized within 2-7 years to carbon dioxide, which retains the unusual
isotopic signature of gas-hydrate reservoirs isolated from global surficial
systems24. Atmospheric additions of isotopically light methane may also
explain why the palaeosol isotopic palaeobarometer3 and high-resolution
carbon isotopic studies of deep oceanic organic matter4 failed to detect the
high CO2 levels and warm palaeoclimate of the middle Miocene, which is
evident from the few Miocene results presented here (Figs 2, 4a, b), as well
as from studies of foraminifera25, plants26, palaeosols27 and oxygen
isotopic composition of marine shells ... 2001 © Macmillan Publishers Ltd.


From Eric Farmer <>

Dear Dr. Peiser,
In regards to the following article which appeared on in November
of 2000 I have a possible idea to be considered.
Mystery of the Chicxulub Crater: Animation Shows Liquid Impact
Many years ago, my father taught me how to make a type of homemade fudge. To
get the proper texture, the hot mixture was poured onto a marble slab and
allowed to cool slightly. It was then worked with metal paddles until it was
in a thick ropey consistency. At a certain point in this process the entire
mixture would suddenly begin to crystallize at a molecular level and
abruptly harden leaving waves and ripples frozen much like the rock
formations in impact craters. Is it possible that we are seeing a process
similar to this candy making, occurring in asteroid impacts? Feel free to
contact me if any of this is remotely possible and you wish to discuss it
further. Good luck in all your endeavors!
Best regards,

Eric Farmer, Online Communications
Telect, Inc. - 2111 N. Molter Road, Liberty Lake, WA  99019
Tel: 509.893.4357 or  800.458.4501       e-mail      
Fax: 509.344.4357


From Ananova, 16 May 2001

Online gaming site Friendly Giants has launched a General Election version
of Space Invaders.

Election Invaders comes in two versions allowing players to choose which
politicians they blast.

Labour supporters can choose to shoot a swarm of Hagues, Portillos and
Widdicombes. Tories can blast animated Blairs, Browns and Prescotts.

Bagging an elusive Harold Wilson or rogue Margaret Thatcher nets players a
bonus score.

The game (
- which is free to play - will be online until June 7.

MODEARTOR'S NOTE: In a related development, Ananova reports that the Deputy
Prime Minister terribly misunderstood the rules of the new election game
when he blasted another player yesterday: "John Prescott has punched in the
face a protester who threw an egg at him. The Deputy Prime Minister hit the
protestor with a straight left in the face after being hit by the protester
with an egg."
uknews). So much for the true meaning of the "stiffer upper lip" approach to
voter canvassing :-) BJP

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